France honours wartime bravery of Ipswich Spitfire pilot Stanley Chambers, now 99
11:00 10 January 2016
“Bonjour!” bellows Stanley Chambers, standing under his porch and smoking a cigar.
The Ipswich war veteran, a Spitfire pilot who flew hundreds of missions during the Second World War, is in a jovial mood as he greets us at his home.
The 99-year-old puts on his old RAF uniform as he reflects on being awarded France’s Légion d’honneur for bravery against the Nazis.
“I think it is very good that the French government has recognised what we did and has awarded us accordingly,” said Mr Chambers, a father-of-three and grandfather to six children.
The medal is France’s top accolade for an elite group of people who distinguish themselves through civilian or military valour. It was initiated by the then First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1802.
French president Francois Hollande announced during the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Normandy landings that France would give its highest honour to all surviving D-Day veterans.
“I am honoured my long service and good conduct has been recognised,” Mr Chambers added.
His RAF career spanned from 1937 to 1958. He saw action in the medical branch at RAF Feltwell in Norfolk and later served with 165 Squadron, destroying German V-1 flying bombs at 2,500ft.
How often does he reflect on the war?
“Every day,” he answers, solemnly.
He would also target marshalling yards: naval bases, locomotives, submarines and canal boats, and send back photographs of strategic sites for analysis.
He had earlier reflected: “We lost pilots. They would be flying alongside with you. You would look back again and... there was just space. Gone.
“You were scared. Of course we were. But you couldn’t show it. We had a job to do.
“You only had a few seconds [to aim and fire]. You are travelling at 300mph. You are coming down at a rate of knots and having a go. Bang! You watch the train blow up and see a cloud of smoke. The adrenalin... it fills you up fast.”
After the war, he volunteered in the Navy from 1967 to 1981.
He said: “I feel I served my country. I was in the Navy for 14 years as well and got a medal for it.”
He dedicated his Légion d’honneur to his eldest son Billy Chambers, whose son Michael is in the RAF.
Ipswich mayor Glen Chisholm paid tribute to Mr Chambers.
He said: “On behalf of the town, I want to pay tribute to the bravery shown by Mr Chambers in the battle to defeat Nazi tyranny.
“I am pleased that his courage, and those of other veterans who live in the town, has been recognised by the French Government with the award of the Legion of Honour.
“It may be more than 70 years since the end of the war but we should not, and shall never forget, the sacrifices made by so many.”